Horror in Mariupol

Horror in Mariupol

The latest horror in Mariupol, I should say. This past week has been full of them.

Remember, the spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry had the nerve to say this morning that Russian isn’t targeting civilians.

Was that an errant bomb or a message to the Ukrainians that not even the most vulnerable will be spared if they force Russia to take the country by force instead of surrendering?

No Ukrainian city has suffered as much so far as Mariupol. Its location in southeastern Ukraine left it horribly exposed, as it’s bordered on the east by the Donbas where Russian forces have been fighting for years. Once Russian troops invaded the country from the south a few weeks ago and began advancing east, it was a matter of time before Mariupol found itself surrounded.

The city refused to surrender, however. And the Russian military may be too incompetent and underequipped to take Mariupol by force through urban combat. So instead they laid siege to it, cutting off entry and exit and bombing the residents to break their will.

That was a week ago. The situation is now dire:

An AP story about the siege today begins dramatically: “Corpses lie in the streets of Mariupol. Hungry people break into stores in search of food and melt snow for water. Thousands huddle in basements, trembling at the sound of Russian shells pounding this strategic port city.” The detail about the dead lying out in the open isn’t exaggerated. Click the photos here to enlarge:

The city lacks water, power, sewage, and phone service, per the AP. Residents are looting in their desperation to find something to eat. As for the dead:

The city’s mayor says children have begun to die of dehydration. “Something that we thought was impossible in the 21st century is happening today,” he told reporters.

There’s supposed to be a “humanitarian corridor” in place that would allow residents to flee Mariupol while creating space for humanitarian supplies to be trucked in to those staying behind. But Russia is pressed for time, needing victories before its money runs out and its army begins to break down. So the humanitarian corridor is reportedly being shelled to force residents to stay put and starve in hopes of crushing Ukraine’s resolve.

It’s unclear what sort of mines are being used. A report 10 days ago in the Ukrainian press claimed that “petal” or “butterfly mines” had been dropped from the air around Kharkiv in the northeast. If those mines are also being used on the humanitarian corridor out of Mariupol it would be diabolical even by Russian standards:

Strategically, I suspect Russia wants control of Mariupol not just to show how far it’s willing to go to win the test of wills but because it’s looking to establish a corridor along the border of southeastern Ukraine linking the Donbas to Crimea, the two parts of Ukraine that hosted Russian troops even before Putin invaded a few weeks ago. Presumably he wants to control the entire southeastern part of the country with an eye to demanding its annexation once peace negotiations begin in earnest.

If anything good can come from something as savage as a war crime being committed against a maternity hospital, it’s the possibility that international outrage over the incident will pressure Russia into letting Mariupol’s residents leave. But don’t bet on it: The shelling has been so intense that workers digging mass graves in the city’s cemetery have been forced to interrupt their task when the cemetery itself has come under fire. Ironically, the more heavy-handed Putin gets in trying to force a quick end to the war, the more likely he makes it that Ukrainians will fight on as an insurgency for years to punish the Russians for their cruelty. Exit quotation from Zelensky, speaking yesterday: “Fifty Ukrainian children killed in 13 days of war. And in an hour it was 52. Fifty-two children. I will never forgive that. And I know that you will never forgive the invaders.”

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